In the midst of a disappointing season that would see the team finish 68-94, the Brewers made the difficult decision to move established players for future assets. In July, the team began by trading Aramis Ramirez to Pittsburgh. That move was followed up a few days later by the monster deal with Houston where the Brewers swapped star outfielder Carlos Gomez and starting pitcher Mike Fiers for a handful of strong prospects. The following day saw Gerardo Parra shipped to Baltimore for another prospect. By the time the trade deadline had passed, there was no mistaking Milwaukee's intentions: they were rebuilding. Shipping Adam Lind to Seattle earlier this month was the latest step in that process.
Rebuilding efforts can often be long and painful for the fan bases that must endure them. Sitting near the bottom of 2015's power house division probably only increases that anxiety. Speculation persists that Jonathan Lucroy could be among the next to be moved. Former NL MVP Ryan Braun is the only truly established commodity that the organization has under control long enough that he might still be around during the team's next competitive push. Fortunately, the Brewers have already added several interesting pieces to their farm system through this first wave of trades. A few of those players are set to join some of Milwaukee's home grown talent in creating what could be the foundation for the next Brewers winner. Laying that foundation at the Major League level should begin in 2016. Here are some names to keep an eye on.
Top Candidate: Domingo Santana. In an organization suddenly flush with strong prospects, Santana is still noteworthy despite losing his prospect status. In 52 games at the Major League level split between Houston and Milwaukee last season, Santana produced a .238/.337/.431 line good for 110 wRC+. As he enters his age 23 season, Santana should have a good shot at playing time in the Brewers outfield.
There are a few points of caution with Santana at this point in his career. Although he made incremental progress in controlling the strike zone throughout his minor league career, there is still a ton of swing and miss in his game. In his Major League trial last year, Santana struck out like a late-career Adam Dunn to the tune of a 33.7% K-Rate. Additionally, while he is seen as a solid outfielder overall, he is probably a bit stretched in center which appears to be his best path to consistent playing time.
Despite all the caveats, Santana has big upside. His ability to draw walks and hit for power should make him a strong offensive contributor despite the high strikeout totals. Even modest improvement in his ability to handle breaking balls would pay great dividends. As a breakout candidate, it's hard to feel certain about Santana at this stage in his career, but he has more potential to exceed expectations than any other player in Milwaukee's opening day picture.
Dare to Dream: Jorge Lopez. Lopez earned a Grade B+ from John in his updated look at the Brewers system. In 143.1 innings for Double A Biloxi, Lopez had 137 strikeouts against 52 walks while allowing just nine homers for a 3.36 FIP. He then made a brief cameo for the big club, making a pair of respectable five-inning starts late in the season.
With a fastball that works in the low-mid 90s, a strong curve, and solid change, Lopez has the arsenal to be an above average starting pitcher. Although he may not be guaranteed a spot in the opening day rotation, he is ready for a full time trial. Given the rapid nature of Lopez's progress over the past three seasons, it is hard not to be optimistic about his future. While he may not break camp with the Brewers, Milwaukee fans can #daretodream of a future where Jorge Lopez establishes himself as an above average starting pitcher before 2016 has closed.
Rookie Watch: Hey! There's a reason for optimism! In addition to Lopez, the Brewers have several other prospects ready to ascend to full time roles at the Major League level within the next year.
Top prospect Orlando Arcia played an excellent shortstop while posting a 126 wRC+ mark in Double A in 2015. He earned a Grade A- from John, and will be 21 until August. Milwaukee appears likely to give their pair of 26 year old middle infielders in Jean Segura and Scooter Gennett a chance to rebuild their value at the start of the season, but I expect Arcia to debut in 2016 as well.
Acquired with Santana from the Astros, number three prospect Brett Phillips is also knocking on the door to the big leagues. Phillips dominated High A in the Houston system before splitting his final 54 games between the Double A affiliates of his old and new teams. With 20/20 potential and a defensive reputation that makes him more likely than Santana to be the team's long-term center fielder, Phillips has a chance to dictate his own timetable for promotion.
The third piece of the Gomez trade to appear in this article, lefty Josh Hader is also on the cusp of beginning his big league career. John graded Hader on the B+/B border noting that he has an excellent combination of ceiling (mid-rotation starter) and floor (power reliever). He handled Double A very well, combining for 119 strikeouts against just 34 walks in 104 innings between his two stops at the level. He also showed very well in the Arizona Fall League. Like Lopez, he may require more seasoning at Triple A, but he should be in the mix to be among the first hurlers called up should the Brewers have a need.
Final Notes: Right-handed starters Zach Davies, Ariel Pena, and Tyler Wagner all made their Major League debuts last season. They are still rookies and each has a somewhat similar profile and ceiling. Their presence complicates the matter of trying to determine which of Milwaukee youngsters will get the first crack at available time at the Major League level. When you combine the prospects with young Major Leaguers such as Wily Peralta, Jimmy Nelson, and Taylor Jungmann, The Brewers pitching staff will be far more interesting than that of the typical fourth place team.
With several young and talented players converging for the Brewers in the rotation, outfield, and middle infield, Milwaukee may have some interesting trade possibilities in the next couple of seasons. For prospect lovers, this should be a surprisingly fun team to follow. For Brewers fans, the next few seasons could be frustrating at times, but there is an exciting level of quality and quantity coming to town.